Questions for Rolf

Greg Doudna gdoudna at
Sat Apr 28 03:10:02 EDT 2001

Rolf (comments below):

> difficulties in the study of a dead language. In connection with models,
> tendency is that one that has a great potential for explanation has a weak
> potential for falsification, vice verse. I claim that the model I use in
> connection with Hebrew verbs can explain the whole verbal system without
> exceptions, and this would suggest that its falsification potential is

Thanks for your answer, and I see your point about the problems with
a stringent requirement of falsification. Let me try another tack. What
major (or minor) systematic features of biblical Hebrew do you see
as well-explained by your model, that are otherwise anomalous?

Or to put it in different words, what major problems does it solve?
(Apart from the problem of an absence of a comprehensive explanation
after you debunk the others. I mean something more specific.)

> This means that the predictions which can be falsified must be restricted
> to situations where semantics can be distinguished from pragmatics, and
> this leads to the following prediction:
> (1) To express conative situations, resultative situations, and situations
> where one clause interrupts another in the middle ("When Peter came,Roy
> reading.") only YIQTOL/WAYYIQTOL/WEYIQTOL are used. The use of
> QATAL/WEQATAL in such situations will falsify my definition of verbs.

1QpHab 8.8-10.
'Its interpretation concerns the Wicked Priest who was called (QATAL)
by the name of truth at the beginning of his standing, but when he ruled (or
was ruling) (QATAL) over Israel his heart was lifted up (QATAL) and
he abandoned (WAYYIQTOL) God and he betrayed (WAYYIQTOL)
the statutes ...'

It seems to me that this could be transformed with no change of
meaning to: 'when his heart was lifted up (and he abandoned, betrayed,
etc.) he was ruling'.

But 'was ruling', which is in process when he does all these other
things, is QATAL. Which if I understand you right, isn't supposed
to be happening by your prediction. Am I missing something?

> >there are two conjugation systems, and *nothing* is being marked by form,
> >i.e. its all pidgin with meaning understood from helping words (and some
> >conventions or patterns have evolved).
> This fourth alternative was also advocated by Sperber from the late 30s
> and he was a dilligent student of the text, not only of other's gramatical
> work. The possibility is there, and at least dialect differences in the
> text has been proposed. However, much of this is speculative, such as
> Dahood's work with Ugaritic and the Psalms. The arguments should be taken
> seriously, but in my view the arguments are too weak for the following
> reasons:
> 1) The text of the Tanach has been remarkably stable during several
> years (only minor developments in the youngest books) while colloquilal
> language undoubtedly changed.

(It was Sperber I was thinking of, not Speiser which I said by mistake.)

By 'text of the Tanach remaining stable' I take it you mean there is little
linguistic development from one book to the next? (If you mean, after the
editions of the texts are published they remain the same for centuries
that is hardly any point at all. Already at Qumran
it is seen that texts are copied by scribes whose spelling is obviously
non-standardized but who are definitely copying the texts they have
without change, consciously, including grammatical forms and manners
of expression that are not what they themselves would use.)

But if by stability you mean 'early' and late' books are relatively little
changed in basic grammer, could this in principle not also be explained
in terms of compression of the total time frame in which the texts were
composed? Since one of
the texts, Daniel, is terminus a quo 164 BCE, and since nearly all of
the texts are represented at Qumran giving a terminus ad quem of
c. 2nd-1st BCE, the issue is when were the earliest editions (editions
known to the Bible, Qumran, etc.) first published (as distinct from
sources, etc.)? While the 'several hundred year' span is virtually taken
for granted, how secure is it? On a totally unrelated issue, I have
a proposal in print that the actual span of Qumran text copies (that's
copies, not dates of composition) is more like one century total, rather
than the conventional notion of c. three centuries total. (Thats in
Flint and VanderKam DSS after 50 Yrs, Vol, I, 1998.) If the
biblical books were demonstrably through hard evidence composed
over the long span of many centuries everywhere assumed, that would
be one thing. But it seems to me to be a scholarly construct which is
not demonstrated. (Note that the issue here is the dating of first final
editions in a form that are 'frozen' like Isaiah or the texts of the XII at
Qumran [which after that point get only copied, not further rewritten].
This says nothing about prior source editions and so this has nothing
to do with the issue of Hellenistic versus Solomonic kingdom
composition of the material itself.)

> 2) The problem of seeing a clear pattern in the verbal system (the
> of exceptions) is not the fault of the text, but rather the fault of
> traditional grammar which never has been tested against the whole text. I
> claim that an alternative grammatical explanation can account for the
> system. So there is no longer any need to explain the language as
> anamalgamation (an influence of other languages, particularly Aramaic, is
> however seen).

OK, you're saying the main reason for invoking a Sperber-like
explanation is to explain anomalies which are illusory, but which
need not be upon better analysis. Fair enough, if it stands the
test of being a better, cleaner, more elegant, more heuristically
useful, better explanatory analysis.

> 3) The overall system of Hebrew verbs is very similar to the cognate
> languages. The Aramaic of Daniel, for instance, has many YIQTOLs with past
> meaning, and YIQTOL  and QATAL can be used for past,present, and future.
> The "preterite" of Accadian can have present and future reference, and the
> "present" can have past reference.

Do you see your analysis of Hebrew as shedding significant light on
the cognate languages, or do you regard them as fairly well-described,
now? (Or is this not your question and issue at this point?)

Greg Doudna

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list